Friendships will be tested this week when Kalle Rovanperä vies to outdo his Toyota Gazoo Racing colleague Elfyn Evans in the fight for the 2023 FIA World Rally Championship crown.
The 23-year-old Finn sits on the verge claiming his second consecutive WRC title with Evans, more than 10 years his senior, the only driver who remains in his way. If Rovanperä can match or better the Welshman’s score at this 12th and penultimate round of the season, title number two is guaranteed.
Brand-new for 2023, Central European Rally includes stages spread across three countries – Germany, Austria and Czech Republic. The latter, well-known for its passionate rally fans, makes its debut appearance at world-level.
The asphalt route is practically all new for the WRC stars running at the head of the field. Pace notes, which the crews have made this week during recce, must be ultra-precise.
“When the fight is between team-mates it’s always quite friendly and fair with the same cars, so it should be a good one,” Rovanperä said. “I’m quite confident that it can be a good event for us. This type of asphalt rally normally suits me best and I have had some good results on these kinds of roads.”
Evans, for whom a victory would ensure the battle goes down to the wire at FORUM8 Rally Japan next month, added: “We’ll be trying everything we can to have two strong rallies to end the season and we’ll try to put the pressure on [Kalle].”
Strengthening Toyota’s charge is eight-time world champion Sébastien Ogier as well as Takamoto Katsuta, who completes a four-strong GR Yaris Rally1 line-up.
Although out of contention for title glory, Thierry Neuville has exceptional credentials when it comes to competing in mixed asphalt conditions. The Belgian, a past winner of Rallye Monte-Carlo and FORUM8 Rally Japan, fields a Hyundai i20 N Rally1 alongside Esapekka Lappi and Teemu Suninen.
Having confirmed his return to Hyundai for 2024, Rally Chile Bio Bío victor Ott Tänak will aim to end his final fixtures with M-Sport Ford on a high. The British squad also runs a Puma Rally1 for Pierre-Louis Loubet with new co-driver Benjamin Veillas alongside him.
The rally starts from Czech capital Prague on Thursday afternoon. Eighteen stages totalling 310km against the clock follow before Sunday’s finish in Passau, Germany.